Celebrating 25 Years of Scoop
Special: Up To 25% Off Scoop Pro Learn More

Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | News Video | Crime | Employers | Housing | Immigration | Legal | Local Govt. | Maori | Welfare | Unions | Youth | Search


Seymour's Proposed Changes To ECE 'B4 School Checks' Are Wrongheaded And Myopic

The proposed change in ‘B4 School Checks’ by ACT party leader David Seymour are concerning on several levels. Seymour recently announced the proposal which includes extending the ‘B4 School Checks’ focus on health to testing for certain skills. This includes holding a pencil, picking up a book and putting a triangle in a triangular hole.

This proposal is so antithetical to the way Early Childhood Education (ECE) is practiced in Aotearoa that it is alarming. It is (excuse the analogy) like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. If we were to test this policy against what we know is effective practice in ECE then it would not pass.

Let’s leave ECE to those in the field of education and not treat it as a political football. Seymour’s proposal demonstrates a lack of knowledge about how children learn, and indeed what kind of learning is considered important in early childhood.

Seymour is suggesting that we extend the ‘B4 School Checks’ to include testing young children on a group of rather limited and isolated skills. Not only is this myopic, but it is also contrary to the conceptual foundations and practice of ECE Aotearoa.

Te Whāriki is New Zealand’s ECE curriculum. It is widely endorsed globally and is considered ground-breaking for its bicultural and strengths-based philosophy. Te Whāriki was originally launched in 1997 and was written in consultation with a wide range of people including iwi, ECE experts, communities across Aotearoa and academics. It promotes a play-based curriculum that celebrates our tamariki as taonga (treasures).

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading

Are you getting our free newsletter?

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.

Te Whāriki conceives of tamariki as competent and confident learners who grow and learn with support of kaiako (teachers) and local communities. It is primarily a play-based curriculum based on children’s interests and cultivates lifelong learning dispositions.

In short, ECE in Aotearoa does not assess children based on isolated skills such as whether or not they can hold a pencil. It is more concerned with fostering curiosity, and imagination through the development of thinking and problem-solving skills. ECE kaiako are experts in supporting children’s emergent literacy and numeracy skills and nurturing the development of science understandings about the world around them. They also know how to support socio-emotional competencies and guide children in learning prosocial skills.

The above summary just touches on the many things that are occurring in ECE centres across Aotearoa. This rich landscape is built on connections with communities and supports diversity as curriculum is woven within the local cultural contexts.

Children are assessed through kaiako noticing, recognising and responding to the strengths of tamariki. It might be nice if they can hold a pencil, but it’s not really our key focus. We know that tamariki are better placed to learn literacy skills in schools when they have been given the space to develop emergent literacy skills and when their imaginations have been nurtured.

Enter this new proposal which has a standardized tick box (or cross box) approach to our tamariki. Seymour suggests that we change the B4 School Checks which assess health at age 4 to also check they can read their name, know the alphabet, hold a pencil, pick up a book, identify things that are the same, different and group them, match items in a shape box, communicate thoughts and ideas.

Just imagine it. Can they put a triangle in a triangle hole? Cross. Fail.

This is inconsistent with our focus on tamariki as capable learners who are motivated by their own interests. There may be many reasons why a child cannot (or will not) put a triangle in a triangular hole when asked. They may simply not be motivated. ECE is not about putting children on an assembly line waiting to get an approval sticker for school.

Children’s learning does not follow a linear path. They learn skills at different times, and in diverse ways. Let’s encourage their uniqueness.

ECE is so much richer than Seymour’s proposal suggests. The skills to be an effective ECE kaiako are based on deep-seated knowledge about how children learn. For example, supporting imaginative play is such an important part of ECE education because this is how children develop conceptual understanding. This forms the basis for all later learning.

But you can’t really test for imagination. And why would we want to?

Standardized testing of isolated skills is counterproductive and dangerous. Children learn best through open-ended and intrinsically motivated play. There are a myriad of ways to fit triangles into triangular holes.

Seymour is also proposing a centralised collection of that data. This data will then be used to punish ECE centres that consistently fail on those tests and they will lose their funding.

The ECE sector in Aotearoa is not punitive in nature. It does not test for isolated skills. It supports tamariki and their whānau and communities. We don’t fail children and we don’t punish teachers based on a pre-determined and myopic performance criterion.

If ECE centres lose their funding based on Seymour’s criteria it will become an enormous equity issue. Performativity on Euro-centric narrow school-based skills will disadvantage those communities who sit outside of white middle class neighbourhoods. It is also non-inclusive of children with additional needs. Centres may become reluctant to enrol these children due to fears that they will lose their funding.

What Seymour’s proposal fails to take into account is that the set of skills it hones in on are merely a blip in what children know and what children can do. Children express their knowledge, strengths and skills according to culture and place. What is important is not if they can pick up a book (this one really had me scratching my head).

What is important is that they love books and any other form of language-based practices. They can communicate in diverse ways (dance, playing instruments, art, for example) and express ideas that are important to them. This may not look the same in all contexts and all cultures. Skilled teachers are able to identify children’s communicative practices as important for later learning (including literacy learning).

The ECE sector has been through enough recently and we don’t need to be told how to practice. ECE kaiako are all professionals with degrees in education and they practice in extremely rich and knowledgeable ways.

Our tamariki and kaiako matter. We need to support them and protect them from political posturing that devalues them.

© Scoop Media

Advertisement - scroll to continue reading
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines




InfoPages News Channels


Join Our Free Newsletter

Subscribe to Scoop’s 'The Catch Up' our free weekly newsletter sent to your inbox every Monday with stories from across our network.